Sex, videotapes and damages II

Following on from last week’s Giller v Procopets, I was asked if Max Mosley’s payment of the prostitutes precluded a claim for breach of confidence, leaving him just with his Conventional rights to privacy.

It is certainly true that the trial judge focused primarily on the invasion of Mr Mosley’s rights to privacy. However, his Lordship did also find that “Woman E” breached her obligation of confidence to Mr Mosley:

104 In the light of these two strands of authority, it becomes fairly obvious that the clandestine recording of sexual activity on private property must be taken to engage Article 8. What requires closer examination is the extent to which such intrusive behaviour could be justified by reference to a countervailing public interest; that is to say, at the stage of carrying out the ultimate balancing test. I will focus on those arguments shortly.

105 Before I do so, however, I need to address the separate question of whether Woman E owed a duty of confidence to the Claimant and the other participants in respect of the events at the flat on 28 March. In the ordinary way, those who participate in sexual or personal relationships may be expected not to reveal private conversations or activities. Evidence was given by the Claimant and the other women both generally about the recognised code of discretion on “the scene” and also, specifically, about their relationships with one another. Woman A was a close friend of Woman E and had introduced her to the Claimant. Her outrage is displayed in a text she sent on 11 April:

” … our scene is based on complete trust and complete discretion. However one of my so called close friends dominatrix [Woman E] has betrayed that confidence by doing what she has done. I am devastated by this act of pure total selfish greed, she has no morals, no integrity, no loyalty, complete disregard to others, cruel, and she is a liar!!! No one … deserves this invasion of privacy.”

106 It was often said that “there is no confidence in iniquity”, but it is highly questionable whether in modern society that is a concept that can be applied to sexual activity, fetishist or otherwise, conducted between consenting adults in private. All the other women, as well as the Claimant, felt utterly betrayed by Woman E’s behaviour in filming them without consent and selling the information to the News of the World. I was told that she was soon ostracised from “the scene”, where the need for discretion is widely accepted.

107 It is true that the Claimant on this occasion paid the women participants, although he has not always done so in the past, but this does not mean that it was a purely commercial transaction. Even if it was, that would naturally not preclude an obligation of confidence, but it is quite clear from the evidence that there was a large element of friendship involved, not only as between the women but also between them and the Claimant. For example, had it not been for the intervention of the News of the World there was a plan to offer him a (free) session for his birthday (which falls in April).

108 In any event, irrespective of payment, I would be prepared to hold that Woman E had committed an “old fashioned breach of confidence” as well as a violation of the Article 8 rights of all those involved. This may have been at the instigation of her husband, who saw the opportunity of making £25,000 out of the News of the World and who made the first approach. (emphasis supplied)

One might add that the equitable obligation of confidence long since escaped the confines of private relationships involved in (Prince) Albert v Strange and Argyll v Argyll to afford protection in many commercial situations such as employer-employee relationships where money changed hands.

So, while the obligation of confidence was recognised, it would seem the English court took the converse approach to the Victorian Court of Appeal – concentrating on the modern right to privacy.  So e.g. Eady J noted at [182]:

The cause of action now commonly described as infringement or breach of privacy, involving the balancing of competing Convention rights, usually those embodied in Articles 8 and 10, has recently evolved from the equitable doctrines that traditionally governed the protection of confidential information. Now (and especially since the formulation by Lord Nicholls in Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457) it is common to speak of the protection of personal information in this context, without importing the customary indicia of a duty of confidence. 

Max Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2008] EWQB 1777

Served by “Facebook”

Courts have apparently been allowing service of court documents by email and in at least one high profile case against a rugby player alleged to be in breach of his club contract by text message.  Now, for those of you looking for reports of the case where the Court allowed service by Facebook, try:

here and here and here and here.

Master Harper’s decision in MKM Capital v Corbo and Poyser doesn’t appear to be online on Austlii yet.

Lid dip: Jane Treleaven

By the way, Jane asks what kind of privacy settings these people were using that their, er, Facepage (?) showed so much personal information?

While teasing out some issues about the Lori Drew prosecution, Eric Goldman also notes there are problems with the reliability of social network sites pages here, here and here (e.g.).